Creating a Feeling of Steady Calm in Your Home

Our sunroom play space becomes a cozy nook at night:  Creating a Feeling of Steady Calm in Your Home

A lot of people want a cozy house, but did you ever think of it as a fortress of comfort?  Get this:

“Your home should feel like a steadfast haven — a place where nothing can ever go wrong,” says Jeffrey Alan Marks, author of The Meaning of Home.

Wow, I thought, when I read that in the October 2013 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  That’s powerful.  How do I get that too?

To achieve this feeling of refuge, Marks suggests using super soft sofas, comfy chairs around a small table, or wall colors and textures that cocoon.

Since all of our couches are from Ikea, super-soft is not going to happen, but there are all sorts of ways to create serenity.  As we continue to renovate and decorate, starting from pretty much a blank page —

Creating a Sense of Steady Calm in Your Home

BEFORE: Our living room when we bought the house

I find myself returning to three elements to create a feeling of soothing coziness.

1. Warm Lamp Lighting

AFTER: Our night-time living room after painting, installing drapes, and adding a lamp

AFTER: Our living room after painting, installing drapes, and adding a lamp

Our living room was one of the most difficult rooms to get right. Its odd hexagonal shape with windows and doors on all sides but one made it hard to place furniture.

Plus the room lacked a focal point, or even anything at all to draw people in. I was against a TV, so we were thrilled to be able to add a gas fireplace during our renovation (strangely, our 1916 house never had one).

After also adding desks for the kids, lots of books, and leather couches, the room went from a walk-through space to the heart of the house. However at night, it wasn’t really relaxing, and I knew why.

We needed lamp lighting.  Even though we had an antique chandelier on a dimmer, overheads just can’t match the warmth and ambiance of lamp-light.  There is a certain romance when a lamp is turned on.  Especially if it has a fabric shade, a lamp gives off a soft, diffuse light that glows like a candle.

To feel snug on a rainy day or to unwind in the evening, I need at least one lamp in the room.  Maybe you do too.

2. Window Dressings Made of Fabric

Creating a Sense of Steady Calm in Your Home

Our foyer is great place for welcoming guests and watching the world go by, but it can also be tucked in at night.

The plantation shutters we found in the house when we bought it provided a combination of privacy and views, but they didn’t give us 100% of either.  The top half of the windows were always exposed, and we almost never bothered to open the shutters to reveal the full view.

Creating a Sense of Steady Calm in Your Home

BEFORE: The foyer used to be a library, until we removed the shelving, built closets, uncovered the radiator, and restored the window trim.

We love living in a city where it’s easy to interact with neighbors and use the sidewalks, but at night we like to be able to draw the drapes and get into our pajamas.  Adding a bunch of fabric curtains, I thought, would contribute to a feeling of coziness and would also help absorb some of our (significant) noise.

We have 18 windows on the first floor alone and almost every one was a different size and shape, so we decided that buying ready-made curtains and altering them would be as much work and expense as making them from scratch.  Since we were going to go with simple panels hung with clip rings, I planned on sewing them myself, but then life happened — a whole-house renovation during the last six months of our pregnancy — so we decided to farm the work out.

We found a relatively affordable seamstress and saved money by using the same inexpensive fabric in every room:  a raw, unbleached cotton called Osnaburg, sometimes referred to as the poor man’s linen, which I found online for $1.67 per yard.

Curtains are much more difficult to get right than blinds, but I feel the angst is worth it in the end.  They’re softer, more elegant, and provide a chance to add to the color and style of your house.

3. Instinctual Furniture Placement

Creating a Sense of Steady Calm in Your Home

Our bedroom as seen from the doorway

When you are the first in a group to arrive at a conference room or restaurant table, which seat do you pick? You probably choose a chair that faces the entry and where you can see most of the room.

According to Feng Shui, which I was surprised to learn is a lot about common sense, this is the  “commanding position.”  It gives us a sense of security and control over our space.

Creating a Feeling of Steady Calm in Your Home

BEFORE: Our bedroom was formerly a walk-in closet and laundry room

Completely by accident, our new bedroom fits the principles of this ancient philosophy, and I wonder if that might be why I feel so good about how it turned out.

Since the room was small, I thought it would be fun to try a jewel-box effect, wrapping it in a deep, velvety blue.  However the room also had lots of windows. So we completely covered them with floor-to-ceiling drapes that were the same color as the paint.  This created the “solid” wall we needed to place the bed with a view of the entry, but without facing it head-on.

The drapes can be opened for more light if needed, but it remains a cozy refuge at any time of day.

Creating a Sense of Steady Calm in Your Home

This feeling that I’ve unconsciously been trying to create in our house is the combination of a soft embrace and a front door locking.  It’s a safety and a comfort that evoke utter relaxation.

I agree with Jeffrey Alan Marks when he says that “true luxury is an environment that wraps you up like a blanket.”

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  • Marne April 8, 2015, 10:48 am

    I just found your blog and I love it!! Do you have pictures of your stairway? Also, what are the colors you chose for your rooms?

    • Amy April 22, 2015, 10:57 pm

      Hi Marne,

      Thanks for your nice comments. The color we used in the bedroom was Benjamin Moore’s Newburyport Blue from their Historical Collection. The living room was also from that collection: Copley Gray. The playroom and kitchen are done in Farrow & Ball’s color Parma Gray (although it looks blue).

      I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of the Smoked Trout in the stairwell up yet. It’s a very warm rich neutral.

      Hope this helps!

  • Alison March 3, 2014, 5:44 pm

    I also love the foyer. I can’t believe that I would agree with getting rid of a library room (!), but I love the new space. It looks more cozy and more fitting with the time period of the house, too, which is surprising. PS: We have lots of IKEA furniture too. One day…. :)

    • Amy March 7, 2014, 12:15 pm

      Hi Alison,

      I know, I too felt bad about taking out the built-in shelves and the idea of a library. But with kids, we needed space for coats and backpacks and boots. We made space for the books in the living room.

      I too think the library gave a modern look to the house, and I heard that the former owner was always torn between staying true to the history and doing something contemporary. He was an architectural photographer who loved modern buildings.

      Good to hear from you,

  • Nina February 17, 2014, 9:37 am

    Your home looks amazing! I had to laugh about the Ikea couches as I sit in our own and couldn’t agree more! That’s one of the furniture pieces I’d love to upgrade in due time.

    • Amy February 20, 2014, 2:26 pm

      Hi Nina,

      Yeah, Ikea couches are not known for being soft as a cloud. But it’s usually one of those furniture pieces that you need to buy new, and I just can’t get over the cost of “real” couches. Maybe one day, as you say.

      Take care,

  • Kathryn February 17, 2014, 12:01 am

    What a beautiful house! You have indeed made it comforting. Thank you for opening up your home for us to see. I love the blue bedroom.

    • Amy February 20, 2014, 2:25 pm

      Hi Kathryn,

      I’m glad you too find it comforting. The navy blue bedroom was a risk, but it paid off, I think.

      Thank you,

  • Mary February 16, 2014, 1:55 pm

    Lovely to see you back Amy & your house is just beautiful.
    I am also in the throes of decluttering & doing some painting & what a difference it makes. Look forward to March!

    • Amy February 20, 2014, 2:24 pm

      Hi Mary,

      Winter is a great time for decluttering and indoor painting. And I agree that those two things alone can really transform the feeling of a room. Wishing you continued success!


  • Jen @ Jen Spends February 16, 2014, 10:14 am

    I love your foyer, Amy — the transformation is incredible! You’ve made great choices, and you’ve breathed so much period-appropriate life into your old house. I like that your curtains look pretty, but also serve a function. I’ll have to look into that fabric you mentioned — I like the same look. I’m (very) slowly, but surely, getting there in my house, too. Right now I’m really focused on decluttering and simplifying. I want nice, calm rooms throughout. By taking my time I’m finding that it’s all coming together better than if I were to sit down and design something all at once.

    • Amy February 20, 2014, 2:23 pm

      Hi Jen,

      Thank you so much for your thoughts about the foyer and the house in general. I know you are familiar with the task, having an old house yourself.

      Decluttering and simplifying is really important — probably the most important first step. The absence of clutter is so important to a feeling of calm, don’t you think?

      I too agree that decorating slowing over time really pays off. It’s hard to have the patience, but you really do need to live with a room as it evolves to see what it needs next.

      Thanks for checking in,